13 December 2010

SOCIETY - The London protests

The recent riots in London are troubling. Things like this don't often happen in the UK, we think of violence on the streets as something that happens far away. We pride ourselves on the fact that British police don't need to carry handguns. So what went wrong?

Riots in LondonThe Big Picture has some clear images of the trouble. Both protesters and police suffered some injuries and there will be inquiries to clarify how these happened.

The cause of the rioting is widely supposed to be student unrest concerning a recent House of Commons vote agreeing to increases in university tuition fees. But more than 99.9% of students were not present at the rallies in London and the great majority of those that were marched and protested peacefully.

It seems certain that small, organised groups joined the student marches with the express purpose of stirring up violence. It reminds me of the violent clashes at football matches, political demonstrations, industrial disputes and more.

There is no excuse for violence. It's not a valid way to express a point of view. It contradicts the teachings of all the world's major religions, the moral convictions of most agnostics and atheists, as well as the laws of most of the world's national governments and the views of international organisations. By definition, violence is intended to harm people. And the overwhelming majority of people are opposed to it.

The difficulty we face is what to do about it. We can hardly just let the law be flouted, but meeting force with force is a last resort and is likely to lead to greater violence, at least in the short term.

As someone who wishes to follow Jesus I can only listen to what he says and do what he does. He tells me to love my enemies. He rebuked Peter for trying to protect him with a sword. He is the Prince of Peace. He came to heal and mend. He offers wholeness in place of injury and life in place of death.

Perhaps we need to begin in the places where we live. Just imagine if for every theft or burglary, and for every act of violence, a hundred people came forward to offer help, to restore broken or lost property, to act as counsellors for grieving relatives and support for the injured. Suppose we offered to help the injured policeman and the injured rioter without making judgements or distinctions. Offering help doesn't imply approval or disapproval, it's just help where help is needed, help to innocent and guilty alike.

(Related post, 'SOCIETY - Riots in the Cities')

12 December 2010

THOUGHT - What is the greatest gift to grasp?

< No earler items | The Essay | The fulfilment of the law >

In 1884, Henry Drummond wrote an essay on love called 'The Greatest Thing in the World'. It is so good that I felt I should translate it from the original Victorian English into today's English so that it will accessible to more people.

Henry DrummondI have published the essay online, but I'm also making it available as a series of articles here. This is the first.

I'll begin by quoting a section of the modern version and then add some thoughts of my own.

Please consider writing a comment, I'm interested to know what you think.

Every one has asked themselves the great question of past ages and of today: What is the greatest good? You have life ahead of you but you can only live it once. What is the noblest thing to have, the greatest gift to grasp?

We're used to being told that the greatest thing in the religious world is Faith. That great word has been key for centuries in mainstream church and without a thought we've considered it to be the greatest thing in the world. Well, we're wrong! If we've been told that, we risk missing the truth. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul takes us to Christianity at its source and we read, "The greatest of these is love." (verse 13)

It's not an oversight. Paul has only just mentioned faith. He writes, “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (verse 2) Far from forgetting, he deliberately contrasts them, “These three remain: faith, hope and love,” and without a moment's hesitation he makes his choice, “But the greatest of these is Love.”

Nor is it prejudice. We tend to recommend our own strengths to others, but love wasn't Paul's strong point. We can see a beautiful tenderness growing and ripening throughout his character as Paul grows old; but the hand that wrote, “The greatest of these is love,” was originally blood stained.

Nor is this letter to the Corinthians unique in singling out love as the greatest good. Other New Testament authors agree. Peter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply.” (1 Peter 4:8). Above all. And John goes even further, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8).

Drummond wants to know what the greatest thing in the world is. He has really thought it through and wants to challenge others to ask the question for themselves. This essay began life as an impromptu address at a country retreat, sitting in front of the fire.

The famous evangelist, D L Moody, had been asked to speak but he was tired and suggested Henry Drummond might take his place. And Drummond's words were so beautiful and striking that Moody wanted to use the address in his Bible Schools.

Notice how Henry Drummond begins. He argues that if you want to live life well you'd better make some wise choices. And then he points out how many make the mistake of thinking faith is the greatest thing (and therefore the thing to seek). What other things do followers of Jesus mistakenly put first today? Might they include right doctrine, and tithing, and high moral standards? These are not wrong in themselves but they are not where our hearts should be focussed.

Drummond's message is just as relevant today. Seek first the Kingdom, seek to be close to Jesus who is love made real in a person. Paul writes that love is greater than faith or hope and Drummond sets out to show that Paul is not writing out of prejudice or carelessness and that other New testament authors agree with him. Right here at the start of his essay he has laid the foundations. Love is the greatest thing - or as Drummond puts it, the 'Summum bonum'.

< No earler items | The Essay | The fulfilment of the law >

09 December 2010

TECHNOLOGY - SpaceX, another first

It was a privilege to be able to watch SpaceX's live webcast of the launch of their first Dragon capsule. This is a unique achievement, it's the first time a private company has put a spacecraft into orbit and safely returned it to earth.

Launch of Falcon 9 and Dragon, 8th December 2010The icing on the cake is that they also manoevered Dragon while in orbit, testing some of the moves that will be required to dock with the International Space Station (ISS). But why is all this such a great thing?

Let me explain. The human race undoubtedly has a built-in urge to explore and try out new things. We might have different views on the reason for this, and some might argue that space exploration is far too expensive to justify. But for whatever reason people have a built-in desire to explore beyond the boundaries, to go further than before, to see and understand new things.

SpaceX have done something amazing. They are a small company working on a small budget, in just eight years they have developed two launcher families and a spacecraft and have won a NASA COTS contract to resupply the ISS and return cargo to Earth. In the past only nations and groups of nations have returned a spacecraft from orbit. The Soviet Union and the United States achieved this in the early 1960s, and later China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency (ESA) have done so too.

SpaceX was founded and is managed by Elon Musk, reinvesting some of his personal fortune earned by creating PayPal. Elon and SpaceX are determined to reduce the cost and increase the reliability of spaceflight tenfold and they have now demonstrated a realistic chance of doing so. Not only did they fly Dragon to orbit and return it intact, the spacecraft and (potentially) the first stage of Falcon 9 are reusable for multiple flights.

They have built all the hardware themselves, including the rocket engines. The designs are deliberately simple and the propulsion systems are modular and include a great deal of built-in redundancy.

Finally, Dragon and Falcon 9 were both designed with a view to launching crews to low Earth orbit. This is expected to take a further two to three years and Dragon will accomodate up to seven astronauts.

SpaceX deserve a huge round of applause for an outstanding achievement. As a recent aerospace start-up company what they have done is truly game-changing.

See all articles about SpaceX.

01 December 2010

FAMILY - Holiday in Gran Canaria

Donna and I enjoyed a week in Gran Canaria. It was unexpectedly extended by two days as a result of a strike by Spanish air traffic controllers! The weather was variable, but warm, we loved our hotel, and there was plenty to see and do.

(You can click the images for larger versions and there's a separate picture gallery with more photos. Hint: from the gallery you can use the slideshow button at top-right.)

Frozen fields in EnglandDay One - 27th November - We flew out from Birmingham Airport. The four and a half hour flight was uneventful with views of the frozen English countryside on the way followed by cloudy conditions for the most of the journey. We did have some clear views of the lights on the south-east coast of the island as we approached the airport.

It was wonderful to leave the plane and feel the warm climate. We looked forward to a week of pleasant weather, no shivering, and no need for more than shorts and T-shirt.

Day Two - 28th November - We were staying at Marina Suites in the town of Puerto Rico. When we looked out of our window in the morning there were large puddles everywhere and the sky was grey. It was warm, but jeans and a fleece seemed more appropriate than the expected shorts and T-shirt!

View of the marina from our balconyWe weren't too troubled, we wanted to rest after our journey so we spent most of our time exploring the hotel and the local area (including the Marina), reading, and visiting the local supermarket to stock up with food.

The self-catering apartment where we were staying had a fridge and simple cooking facilities. A nice cup of tea came quite high on our list of priorities.

Day Three - 29th November - We had some torrential rain today, and I do mean absolutely torrential. Stall holders were racing to get their stock inside, cars were throwing up walls of water as they drove by, and we were completely stuck in the little holiday shop where we had been when the rain began.

Lights reflected in the water of the marinaFortunately the rain came as showers so after half an hour or so we were able to head back to the apartment before the next one hit. Puerto Rico is built around a ravine which is completely dry most of the year in this sem-desert climate. But it quickly became a very active little river again following the heavy rain.

Back at the apartment we returned to reading and chilling out, much easier now as we had bought two mugs in the town. Cups are way too small for a decent brew of tea.

As night fell the weather improved and the view from the balcony was beautiful with sparkling lights reflected in the water.

Day Four - 30th November - The weather began to improve markedly today. We had plenty of bright sunshine but there were still some heavy clouds around sweeping in across the ocean from the south-west. Black clouds on a sunny dayThe picture shows the arid hills with holiday homes and hotels and their irrigated trees (the natural coastal vegetation is scrubby bush with large bare areas of baked rock and stone).

We were able to explore the local area more thoroughly on foot today. We arranged to hire a car for the remainder of our stay so that we could explore a bit further afield.

Day Five - 1st December - I picked up the car first thing in the morning and then drove back to the hotel to collect Donna. Looking back from the foothillsWe had decided to head inland and visit the mountains. Although the coastal parts of Gran Canaria are used mainly for tourism, the inland parts have a more temperate and moist climate and are used mainly for agriculture.

We headed south-east along the coast to Maspalomas and then used the GC-60 north to the centre of the island. The rock and scrub gradually changed to Opuntia and dry grass, then eventually to occasional palms and finally pine trees.

Donna in San BartoloméOn the way we passed the small settlements of Artedara, Fataga, and eventually San Bartolomé de Tirajana where we stopped for lunch (Canarian potatoes are very good!). Little in the way of tourist hotels here, and there are some genuinely old, Spanish buildings. Glorious mountain sceneryThese are absolutely beautiful places and we saw some lovely mountain scenery.

Heading on again we visited the cross at Tejeda and then drove to the highest point on the island, Pico de Las Nieves (1949 m above sea level). Pico de Teide 125 km away on TenerifeThe views from here were awesome as we were above the cloud tops and could see Mount Teide on the neighbouring island of Tenerife, about 125 km away!

The journey back home took us east on the GC-130 and GC-120 through Pasadilla and then the GC-196 back to the east coast motorway (the GC-1). There were more spectacular views on the way.

To be continued...

10 November 2010

THOUGHT - A wind-up torch

Who wants to keep on buying batteries? A wind-up torch can be used indefinitely providing it is wound from time to time. Are you a wind-up torch?

A wind-up torchI was just sitting here quietly this evening, relaxing briefly after a busy day. Into my mind came a clear picture of a wind-up torch, the green one we keep in the cupboard in the kitchen.

And I thought how we wind the torch and it stores the energy, and then we can get that energy out again in the form of light. As I paid attention to the thought a little parable formed in my mind.

There was a wind-up torch that hadn't been used, any energy it had when it was first made had long since dissipated. One day the torch's owner needed light to shine into a dark place. He took out the torch and pressed the switch, but no light shone out. No matter how often he pressed the switch, no matter how long or how hard he pressed, there was no light.

The owner wound the handle vigorously for a minute or two and then tried again. This time a powerful beam shone from the torch and filled the dark place.

People are like wind-up torches. You are a wind-up torch. We were made to contain the energy of our active and powerful King. But if there is no energy inside you, you cannot work.

When the Master wants to shine light into the dark recesses of a person's heart, he often calls a servant and commands light to pour out so that he can direct it at the dark place. But light will only shine if the servant is filled with energy.

If the servant lacks energy, the Master can provide it. Then the servant will pour out the true light of the world (Jesus) into the places that are dark.

The place where you live or work is filled with people who are in the dark, people who know little or nothing about Jesus Christ. When he chooses to use you to shine his light into the darkness, he needs to know that you can draw upon his energy stored within you. Lack of energy isn't a problem to him, he can always add more energy if you have run short. He can act in your life to add energy at any time.

When you contain his energy he can use it to shine light into the lives of those around you. He knows where the dark places are, he will point your beam in the right direction. It will be his light going out to dispel the darkness, not yours.

What can we learn from this story? There are probably several lessons, I'll pick 'Be careful who you allow to wind you up' :-) Please use the comment option to add some ideas of your own.

  • Is this parable useful?
  • What particular lesson does it teach you?
  • When you run out of energy, where do you usually go to find more?

REVIEW - The Jesus Virus

The Jesus Virus is a blog by Ross Rohde about planting small, organic churches. I've just read his latest post 'Another Story from the Harvest' and once again I really like what I read. I'm recommending this post and indeed the entire blog because it's full of life and energy and it reports real events as they happen. I think anyone who follows Jesus will find Ross's posts encouraging and enlightening.

The Jesus VirusIn 'Another Story from the Harvest', Ross explains how things don't always go the way we expect. It's clear that we need to be wary of pattern and methods - certainly in the sense that they may sometimes go against the things that Jesus really wants to do in a situation.

Ross provides a recent example of this. Best to go and read it for yourself!

Ross's blog is not like anything else I've come across. It's very matter of fact, thought provoking, and full of stories about real people. There are so many sites out there that are essentially teaching a doctrine or a method or inviting us to join them in what they are doing.

But this site draws readers into the excitement about what Jesus is doing, and then encourages them to taste and see for themselves. Ross knows that for the church to grow, Jesus must do the building as he promised he would. That means I (and you) must get out of his way. I can add nothing to the work he is doing. If I won't do what he tells me I will not become part of his work. If I do what I judge to be good in my own eyes I will probably hinder his work by acting against him.

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